With a new year comes new challenges, and after the year for the industry that was 2020, we want to help set your restaurant up for success in 2021. As restaurants reopen and business starts to pick up again, it’s important you pick up your marketing plan, too.
To help, we’ve created the ultimate restaurant marketing guide, covering strategy, creative, branding, marketing channels, paid and unpaid advertising, and so much more.
We’ve also included a restaurant marketing plan PDF with all the questions you need to ask (and answer) to get into the minds of your customers and create a marketing recipe for success.
Why you need a solid restaurant marketing plan
You may think you don’t need a marketing plan, and have never created one in the past—so why start now?
There are many restaurants who’ve never touched advertising or social media, and they’ve been the neighborhood’s go-to spot for decades.
Their business is built on the power of word of mouth—one of, if not the most useful marketing tools in the book. While these local favorites are great at attracting their neighbors to visit again and again, to out-of-towners, they’re just another restaurant that looks like it could do with some renovations.
Word of mouth is fantastic, but when it comes to scaling a restaurant or reopening after months of closure, you need to rely on more than just the possibility of a customer loving your food and telling their friends about it.
Which is where your restaurant marketing plan comes in.
Just like anything in life, fail to prepare and prepare to fail. Your marketing plan is your year-long guide to seek opportunities in public holidays and cultural events; it’s your marketing budget that will help reduce risk and minimize overspending; it’s your insights into customer behavior and trends; it’s your pièce de résistance to serve up a great experience and achieve your financial targets.
So, where do you start? Before you get any ideas of a cheesy radio spot, take a step back and look at the bigger picture. See where your restaurant is currently at, and where it needs to go.
Work on your brand strategy
Create the face of your brand
You probably already have a logo, a nicely designed menu, and all the other trimmings to make your restaurant look and feel like a cohesive brand.
But would a first-time customer know what your restaurant is made of by sitting at a table? Does the interior pay off the brand, and vice-versa? What does your furniture, artwork, crockery, and glassware say about your restaurant?
When you step into a Hard Rock Cafe, there’s absolutely no question where you are—whether it’s a Hard Rock Cafe in Boston or Bangkok.
All the visual elements create your brand and the experience that comes with it. They should all work together to create a smooth customer journey, from their initial search on your website to when they sit down with their meal. Make all touchpoints of your restaurant feel like the cool, casual, fusion, or fine dining establishment it is.
Create a mission statement
The above cannot be achieved to its full potential without a solid mission statement. Your mission statement is the ‘why’ of your restaurant. Why you create the food you do, why your service is different, and why customers should come and be a part of your story.
The problem, though, is that most mission statements are unnecessary fluff filled with buzzwords and cliches.
Keep your mission statement short and sweet, boiling it down to the very reason why you opened your restaurant, and what customers will experience.
Read our guide on how to write a killer mission statement, and soon you’ll be writing a clear and concise mission statement to live by, which highlights the passion and uniqueness of your restaurant.
Identify your audience
Whether you’re running a lunchtime hotspot in the financial district or late-night takeout joint by bars and venues, knowing your customers is critical. The better you know them, the more targeted your marketing can be.
Researching your audience can be as simple as creating personas for everyone who walks through your door. Are your customers different in the day than at night? What are they ordering? What are they wearing? Where are they going? There’s a million and one questions you can answer for each customer, and as your insights form, your ‘ideal customer’ becomes clear.
Certified Public Accountant turned restaurateur and best-selling author Roger Fields believes effective market research allows you to:
- Identify the types of customers you will attract
- Hone in on the best type of food to serve
- Predict realistic average check amounts
- Select the most effective marketing channels and campaigns
- Find the most lucrative hours and meal service periods
Recommended Reading: 5 Restaurant Marketing Research Tactics
Having clear answers to these abstract questions will help you create highly targeted marketing campaigns which will bring a better return on investment.
Take a deeper dive into market research and identifying your customers here—you could potentially save thousands of dollars.
Complete a competitor analysis
This will not only inform decisions such as pricing and menu ideas—but it can serve as inspiration too.
You have 3 types of competitors:
- Direct: Restaurants providing the same products as you, and restaurants in your neighborhood.
- Occasional: Restaurants with similar menus situated in nearby locations.
- External: Restaurant with different menus and locations, but could provide some competition through shared customer demographics.
A great perk of opening a restaurant is eating out loads under the guise of trying out the competition. You get to see what works and what doesn’t, insights into their busy periods and average customer, and how much money they’re making.
Your competitor analysis needs to include the digital space too. See how they’re branding themselves online and across social media, and what kind of promotions they’re running throughout the week. Knowing they have a lunch special on Wednesdays is invaluable knowledge to have, and can inform your own decision making.
Recommended Reading: Know Your Customer and Competitor Mix
Work on your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)
What’s that one thing on your menu people will be eager to come back for? Maybe it’s the way you cook or serve the food like teppanyaki restaurants. Or perhaps you take a bold approach like Dick’s Last Resort, where the servers are intentionally rude and obnoxious. Need a napkin? Expect it to be thrown at you along with a few insults! They now have 17 locations across the U.S.
What this shows is that customers want something new and unique. If your marketing offers a unique experience, it’s a guaranteed way to get a consistent stream of first-time customers.
Digital Marketing: Strategy, Tools & Tips
Now you have a clear marketing plan and target audience in mind, it’s time to start building your digital following.
No restaurant—new or established—can expect to grow or even survive without a solid digital presence and engaged audience.
Your website and social media channels provide a sneak peek into your restaurant experience, so it’s essential your online presence is inviting and builds excitement to encourage people to visit.
Creating an SEO optimized website
Anyone can create a sleek, multifunctional website these days. There are dozens of companies that provide high-quality drag-and-drop templates with all the tools you need to take reservations and online orders.
One key aspect of your website is search engine optimization (SEO). Having a website that ticks all the right SEO boxes allows Google and other search engines to work to their full potential.
Let’s say you own a burger restaurant in New York, or more specifically, Manhattan’s Lower East Side. When potential customers get a craving for burgers, they’ll search ‘burger takeout near me.’ Google then collects all the info of nearby restaurants and their websites, serving up the most relevant search based on this person’s location.
Your SEO score is like a ranking for potential customers. The higher your SEO score, the more likely your restaurant will appear at the top of Google searches, and the more likely people are to come and visit or place an online order.
Here’s what you need to do to boost your SEO rankings:
- Include your full address to localize searches. This lets Google know where you’re based, and more importantly, gives customers all the info they need to find your restaurant when they’re on the hunt for food.
- Add page titles and meta descriptions. This is what customers see when they search on Google, and provides a window into what to expect at your restaurant.
Pro tip: Use keywords and locations in your meta description to boost your SEO score. EG: Burger joint on East Houston & 1st Avenue, serving up the biggest burgers in the Lower East Side since 1999.
- Create a blog section on your website. It will bring more visitors to your website and keep your content fresh, which is another bonus for a better SEO score. The blog could include recipes, cooking tutorials, upcoming events, or menu updates.
Creating an SEO-ready website can certainly be done in-house, but if you’re unsure or don’t have the time, hire a marketing agency or SEO freelancer to boost your online traffic—and in turn—restaurant traffic.
Social media is arguably one of the best things to happen to small and independent businesses in recent years. It can put your restaurant in front of thousands of potential customers, and growth can be exponential.
But how you navigate the different channels and build an engaged audience is easier said than done. It all comes down to creating new content that keeps your audience engaged, and leads to a steady stream of new likes and followers which then turn into customers.
Facebook is your best bet for finding and connecting with your local community. The more local people you connect with, the more Facebook’s algorithm will work in your favor by suggesting your restaurant’s page to more nearby users.
You can always boost your page’s likes with Facebook Ads. They’re highly targeted so your ads will be viewed by local people who are more likely to visit your restaurant, which will give you a better return on investment.
There isn’t a platform that has revolutionized the restaurant industry more than Instagram. It has changed the way diners consume food, and created a whole new niche of ‘Instagrammable’ restaurants.
As well as providing the best platform to showcase your drinks and dishes in a creative fashion, Instagram now has built in business tools such as online ordering, maps, and messenger.
Instagram influences menus, food presentation, and interior design, and it should be equally influential in your overall marketing strategy. If you have Instagrammable food and drink, your customers will do your marketing for you.
A successful Instagram page doesn’t guarantee restaurant success, but from a marketing perspective, it’s a great place to start.
Recommended Reading: Restaurant Instagram Marketing: Creating a Strategy for Your Restaurant
Creating the right content
Your content depends on the target audience you’ve identified. If you’re operating a high-end restaurant, you’ll want your content to be elevated and appeal to the exclusivity of your restaurant. Whereas takeouts could create fast-paced and mouth-watering videos of the burger-making process.
Consistent images and videos of your food should be your daily posts, but they need to be complemented with extra pieces of content that sets your page apart.
- Share recipes or videos of ‘how it’s made.’
- Host Facebook and Instagram Live cooking sessions.
- Share images your customers have taken to your Story. This is social media’s new content-rich version of the old-fashioned review.
- Post special offers to attract both first-time and price-conscious customers.
Who doesn’t love free stuff? Incentivizing your customers with rewards is a surefire way to get them to come back time and again. Loyalty programs can be simple cards, or you can take the gamification aspect further with digital ‘point scoring’ for every dollar spent.
While the loyalty card is simple and effective, taking your loyalty program digital gives you the opportunity to collect your customers’ data and continuously advertise to them through email or your app.
Social media and technology have opened up a whole new world of marketing opportunities for restaurants, and they’re just waiting to be leveraged.
Need some inspiration? Check out Engage your Customers with Loyalty Programs
Recommended Reading: 7 Creative Marketing Ideas for Restaurants
Now we’ve given you a feast of food for thought, start creating your restaurant marketing plan with our free PDF template.